Nate Fick at DNC 08-”It took seven years of hard experience to get me on this stage.”

Nate Fick was one of the early speakers in the line up for the Democratic National Convention’s final night at Invesco Stadium. He was one of the “American Voices,” a group of Americans selected to tell their stories during last night’s historic event.

Below, the text of Fick’s remarks.

Good afternoon. I’m Nathaniel Fick. My Marine platoon landed in Afghanistan on a moonlit night in 2001. A little more than a year later, we rolled into Iraq. I’ll never forget one dawn after a vicious gun battle. We’d just medevaced one of our wounded Marines, and I turned to see a small American flag hanging from a humvee’s antenna. For a second, it reminded me of the line we all know so well: “And our flag was still there.”

I registered as a Republican at 18 and voted for John McCain in 2000. It took seven years of hard experience to get me on this stage. But we cannot afford more of the same. That’s why we need Barack Obama and Joe Biden to lead us beyond the tired divisions of the past. They have the judgment to make the right decisions, leading our military, and uphold our highest ideals.

Everyone who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan has left something: a friend, a limb, a piece of their youth. In those palm groves and on those ridge lines, this is personal for us. I don’t want to retreat; I want to win.

The past seven years have been hard, often heartbreaking. Our flag, however, is still there. Let’s move forward in our quest to live up to the idea of America.

I can’t find a video of it on the DNC site yet, but I did see Fick speak. It was very moving. The part about everyone who was there “left something” reminded me of something that completely tore me up when I saw it during one of the video segments aired earlier during the convention: a young Marine spoke about how seeing the boots and helmets of  fallen comrades, arranged in lines for a memorial service, was so powerful for soldiers because they had each spent so much time living and fighting in those exact same uniforms, wearing those exact same boots.

Episode 6: Like fucking for virginity

Sorry so late. Satellite went out this week, I had to scramble.

Patrolling with NVGs on, Kocher and his team snatch up a lone armed Iraqi. Aside from interrupting the guy taking a dump, which I don’t think the Geneva Conventions covers anyway, it’s by the book.  Then Captain America comes flying over the the side of the berm like he was shot of cannon and fucks everything up, because yeah, that unarmed guy Kocher’s now got cuffed and is pushing in front of him?  Yeah, that guy was trying to kill Eric, man!

Just in case anyone had a doubt, Captain America has lost his fucking mind. Officially. The guys in his platoon aren’t even bothering to talk behind his back about him anymore. Though, the guy who tells him his hamster’s jumped the wheel does call him “Sir.”

Thus opens the next-to-the-last episode, Stay Frosty.  Frosty, because, see?  Captain America, hell, everyone, not so frosty. Get it?  I’ll just say here at the beginning, that therein is my problem with the episode.  Too much telling, not enough showing.  No stray unconnected dots, pretty much every punch is telegraphed. A few examples:

Manimal being a dog to the Iraqi woman on the roadside/Manimal being a bigger dog to the female Marine later.

Exposition about the Iraqis using helmets to escape detection by thermals/Gabe finds an Iraqi helmet/his team gets shot at by the reservists.

Unnamed character out of nowhere shoehorned into scene so that we completely understand about the reservists about to show up.

Just like every other time I have a negative criticism of anything Simon/Burns & Co have done, I feel like a schmuck for saying so, because they are who they are and have done all the awesome they’ve done, and I’m sitting on my couch, barely able to crank out a post per show.   Nonetheless, this episode felt off-target, not of a piece with the others. That’s my story and I’m stickin to it.

Of course, it’s still pretty great…

The scene of Colbert dancing or flying or whatever he was doing was the highlight. Wonderful, though it would have been perfection without the exposition between Ray and Evan. Still, there was enough wtf? left in, and jesus did we ever need a palate cleanser right there after the dee-secration of the filtration dee-vice scene. Now we know why Sixta exists.  Because when you routinely condition people to act like violent animals, well, they aren’t going to stay inside the lines and someone has to be there to kick them in the head and make them stop. Remember Ray’s reference to pit bulls?  I once saw a pit bull attack another dog. There were dozens of people around, some of whom tried their best to separate the dogs but the pit bull was like a machine without an off switch.  Then two guys ran up with their cooler and threw the ice, freezing water, cans of beer, all of it, on the dogs and that did the trick.  That’s what Sixta is for.

Is it just me, or did anyone else have the same sick feeling at that first long shot of the refugees on the road, like any second we were going to see them blown up by an artillery attack?  That rubber band just keeps twisting and twisting and twisting all through that scene, aaaaaand sure enough, there goes an old man’s head.   You have to feel for these soldiers, I guess, because any man, woman, child, or small animal in their vicinity seems to die violently no matter what they do.  I mean they are supposed to be expert killers, not killing people by accident. Which, of course, is one of the things this episode hit us over the head with.  We’ve seen it every week, so we didn’t need Poke and Ice Man to spell it all out for us.

That’s what Stay Frosty was about though, more than anything. Drive around the head, run over the body.  You can’t win. Simultaneously blowing the shit out of a country and saving it at the same time is pretty close to impossible, especially when the whole premise is a lie to begin with, especially when you don’t do it with enough personnel and resources, and especially when even the good guys have to throw away the rule book because it’s irrelevant because…see beginning of sentence, and repeat.   Eight thousand Sixtas couldn’t unfuck things at this point, and remember: this is only a month in.

Ep. 5, A Burning Dog: Dig a hole. Eat. Kill.

First thoughts on A Burning Dog.

Well, first off, it’s safe to say we’ve moved into politics. Encino Man (“Whoo! Whoo!”)  doesn’t quite get it but everyone else does. Fick:

“It’s all on that guy’s passport. Two weeks ago he was still a student in Syria. He wasn’t a jihadi until we came to Iraq.”

Last week’s metaphor, masturbation, was about waste and futility and missed opportunities.  Compared to tonight’s episode, Combat Jack seems like a walk in the park in retrospect.  Person’s Stevie Wonder joke was ironic, given that more than in any ep so far, the blinders have come off.  If there was any doubt of their mission, it’s gone. They are there to drive into ambushes and draw fire.  If there was any doubt about the ineptitude of Encino Man and Captain America, it’s gone.  One’s as dumb as a rock, the other is a hysterical menace. If there was ever any doubt that innocents were going to get blown to bits on a daily basis, it’s gone.  See, when I saw them surveilling frolicking children and old ladies baking bread this time, I thought it was a narrative device to simply heighten the tension.  Which, I guess, it was after all.  Another day, another hamlet obliterated.  Time to dig a hole.

Even Ice Man and Fick are at odds, though they are both coming from more or less the same place, which is that this war is not one of the good ones, is not played by the rules, is not the war they trained for, is not going to be winnable, is not ever going to leave them alone, its dead children haunting their dreams forever. If the assembled clowns running the show don’t get them killed, that is. To Afghanistan, gentlemen!

That thing about being the last man to die for a mistake?  Imagine dying because there aren’t enough batteries? Even though I knew the outcome, that nighttime sequence leading up to the bridge ambush was terrifyingly effective.  Imagine rocking through pitch blackness toward a certain ambush, the dark out your window illuminated only by artillery fire, knowing that the guy driving your humvee can’t see what what he’s doing? No wonder Scribe can’t stop the shakes.

I know I’m flogging this parts of a body idea a little hard but let’s go there again. These guys are all parts of the same body. You see now the importance of calling in the shots, the constant back and forth communication about even taking shits, it’s the nerve impulses that let the body operate effectively. The supplies, and the lack of them, that’s the blood flow. Guys like Colbert, Kocher, Pappy, they’re just the arms, the legs. The officers are the brains.  So these guys have Encino Man at the top, so already their brain is mostly gone. I don’t know the name of the Lt. in Alpha company, the one that called in the massive artillery strike on a bare patch of desert?  At that same level, in Bravo,  there’s Captain America.  No matter how good and steady and reliable his counterpart Fick is, there’s Captain America skittering around, like a bad case of epilepsy, with a little bipolar thrown in for good measure.

Oh man, they are all so fucked.

I’m going to revise that arms and legs thing, just for Colbert. He’s the eyes.  In the book, Wright notes that Colbert, especially, was obsessed with figuring out small visual details in the distance, and the film’s borne that out over and over again.  Colbert watches, looks, sees.  Last night’s ep was about seeing, and not seeing.  How awful and appropriate then, that last shot.  Colbert looking into the face of this war, a dead civilian looking back at him forever, through one eye, the other shot out by one of the Marines on his team.

Who the enemy is: Ep 4, Combat Jack Open thread

Alpha and Bravo go their separate ways and the awesome gets spread around a bit wider this week.  Even Trombley does something right.

Discuss.

(UPDATED:  Corrected the misspelling of Trombley’s name. Regret the error)

Drawing conclusions

To say I hold strongly negative opinions of the forces behind the Iraq invasion is an understatement.  Immersing into the world of Generation Kill, it’s been a struggle trying to shoehorn that analysis into this story.

Maass:

…those types of shortcomings, as well as the ineptitude of some members of the unit—a vital supply truck is hastily abandoned in battle, commanders are obsessed with facial hair, a captain orders his men to go the wrong way on a road—are rooted in systemic faults that predate the election of George Bush in 2000. The Bush team was incompetent and naive—the critics are right about that—but the military had more than enough built-in deficiencies to undermine even a well-planned conquest of Iraq. Snafu, which is a military acronym that stands for “Situation Normal: All Fucked Up,” did not come out of Iraq; its origins are generally traced to World War II.

Of course, it is their fault that First Recon was in Iraq to begin with.  Watching Episode 3 unfold, watching that hamlet burn, I was overwhelmed with the thought that one narrative about one battalion and the damage and death they dealt represented a fraction of the total devastation.

More Maass:

Yet the highest achievement of the miniseries is the way it unveils the disordered workings of the American military and the inevitable destruction of all objects in its path, including civilians whose only offense is to tend their sheep or drive down a road. With its $550 billion budget and 1.5 million troops, the military might seem a mechanized colossus of precision-guided violence, give or take a few bad apples and errant artillery shells. But if you have served in the military or written about it from the inside, you know that on the unit level it is filled with men and women of vastly different motivations and skills. The Marines in Generation Kill are intelligent and dimwitted, panicked, sensitive, racist, comic, homicidal, brave. It is a wonder when things go according to plan. “You know what happens when you get out of the Marine Corps?” says one of the characters. “You get your brains back.”

Generation Kill is the opposite of a lecture—the paragraph you just read contains more politics than you’ll get in the entire series. Generation Kill doesn’t insist that the military—George Bush’s, Bill Clinton’s, Barack Obama’s, or John McCain’s—can only get things half-right on its good days. Instead, it presents the untouched messiness and ambiguity of killing in modern warfare. You can draw your own conclusions.

Be sure and read the rest.

Preliminary thoughts/open thread on “Screwby”

I’ll put up a longer post later, but instead of waiting so long this week, I thought I’d just do some thinking aloud about Episode Three, hoping others will jump in with their own thoughts. Lurkers, don’t be quiet.

This was episode was tough going. That feeling after the RCT troops, aided and abetted by Encino Man, obliterate that little hamlet, after that huge wave of flame engulfs the whole blown-up mess?  That’s how this whole episode left me feeling afterward, though I also found parts of it exhilarating. Each episode keeps taking us farther in, and there’s no going back.

Exhilarating?  Oh Jesus yeah, watching those humvees roaring three or four abreast as they race to the airfield — as full of folly and recklessness as that whole mission was, it was thrilling, after watching this outfit plod and rock along through the dust, to see them, pretty much literally, “hellbent for glory.”

Is it just me, or is anyone else confused by how much Cpt. Patterson (the “good guy” captain of Alpha Co.) and Encino Man/Cpt. Schwetje (imbecilic captain of Bravo Co.) look alike?  I am also distracted every time I see Major Eckloff, aka hotheaded Officer Colicchio from The Wire.  “It’s that guy again, what was his name?  Bad haircut dude…”

How much do I love Lt. “I am assured of this.” Fick?  A lot. It’s a tough role because on one hand he’s so young and idealistic but on the other, he’s pure steel. In the book, Fick says something really thought-provoking at the beginning to Wright, about ROTC units on college campuses being essential.  Not because they militarize the university but because the university has a liberalizing effect on the military, which Fick thought could only be a good thing. It’s probably naive of me to think so, but too bad there aren’t more like him in the Marines.

Speaking of things said in the book, at the very end, Wright quotes Colbert as stating a basic truth, about war, and I guess, about humans in general, which is that people who cannot kill will always be at the mercy of those who can and do. The thing about the book and this television series that I find so powerful is that it dismantles a statement like that, the same way it dismantles the stereotypical soldier. As bad as the worst we’ve seen is, it’s difficult to simply condemn these guys as swaggering barbarians wreaking carnage.  They do swagger, they are barbaric, and they do wreak carnage but they are tasked with killing other humans.  Perhaps this is overstating the obvious, but that’s a profound and grave mission. I think the show and the book do a very good job of laying that truth bare, as well as showing that it’s almost impossible to do it the “right” way, at least in Iraq.

Sir, why did you shoot the car?

The entire battalion, along with hundreds of other troops, is rolling through the wide open desert under a clear sky as Episode Two opens. It’s an impressive display of organized power on the move, a six-lane convoy of all manner of military vehicles moving purposefully onward. The scene recalls a passage from the book:

If you were to look at from the air, you’d see a segmented column of American invasion vehicles—Marines in various units—stretching for several kilometers along the highway. Despite all its disparate elements, the column functions like a single machine, pulverizing anything in its path that appears to be a threat.

The Iceman is even moved by the spectacle, talking about how, less than 48 hours into the invasion, here they are “rolling with impunity on Saddam’s highway.”

It’s a great image but it doesn’t last long. The convoy stalls and … cue the herd of goats wandering through the gridlock.  Bitching commences in Iceman’s humvee, about the jam, about other units and their displays of “moto shit,” and about how their much-trained-for bridge mission appears to have gotten shitcanned by the higher ups. The Iceman cuts it short, reminding his team that they are all Marines, and Marines follow orders.

And that is what this episode is about. Officers, enlisted men, and the glue that binds them together. Judgment. Communication. Orders. Discipline. It’s glaringly obvious that without such, the whole testosterone-fueled enterprise would be chaos.

Wright continues:

The cogs that make up this machine are the individual teams in hundreds of vehicles, several thousand Marines scrutinizing every hut, civilian car and berm for weapons or muzzle flashes. The invasion all comes down to a bunch of extremely tense young men in their late teens and twenties, with their fingers on the triggers of rifles and machine guns.

But what Simon/Burns and Co. takes great pains to show in this episode is that it’s not just the green newbies that need reining in, that are the biggest threat to cohesion.  The ones piloting that unified machine, the brain driving the body,  the officers — they are the ones in a position to really fuck things up.  And in this episode, they do. It’s a key issue in the book as well, but  Simon/Burns depart from the book somewhat noticeably in order to front-load this point before their narrative goes any farther.

In addition, some random highlights:

Are there no limits to The Iceman’s awesomeness?

Very glad that Person is not just source of one-liners. Even after just two episodes, I’m liking James Ransome in this role much more than an entire season as Ziggy.

The scene where Iceman is watching the wandering Marine spoke volumes.  A Marine, alone, unfocused, away from the rest of his unit, was as unsettling as some of the more gruesome aftermath shots.

Likewise, the twilight scene in Godfather’s tent as he muses aloud to his gathered officers was poetry, in addition to adding complexity to whole concept of chain of command.

The bridge

More thoughts on Episode 1, and the story as a whole, to span the distance between what we’ve seen already and Episode 2, The Cradle of Civilization, airing tonight.

Lynette mentions upstairs that GK “is no Wire,” and true that.  And on the whole, I think that’s good.  Things end, things change. There are lots of stories we need to hear.  But we want some kind of map, some way in, so we look for connections, or at least, that’s what I find myself doing.  It’s impossible not to compare and contrast, and right up front we see our testosterone-fueled anti-heroes in Generation Kill treading along some seemingly familiar Simon/Burns ground: the futility of the individual actor in a larger scheme dictated by forces beyond his control.

As we all know by heart now, the thematic structure of The Wire was tragedy: whatever actions the characters took to triumph or make sure someone else fell, were, more often than not, confounded by the larger truth:  the game was rigged. There were a few villains in The Wire, I’d argue there was at least one hero, Bubbles, and most everyone else was in the gray zones between. Their moral differences and character traits served to move the story along, but few of them could be classified as heroes in the literary sense, few fought and triumphed against the larger system. Bunk and Omar had their codes, they understood the system, the game, and chose to hew to their own code of behavior, and that made them admirable, made them stand out, apart from the other poor slobs that were pawns in the hands of the gods, the post-modern institutions Simon often refers to. As for the other characters, some were fatalists, some were opportunists, some were completely unwitting, but in the grand scheme of The Wire, everyone was a just a player on the chessboard.

So, what about our soldiers, and their officers, in Generation Kill?  One of the points made by Evan Wright early on in his book, and I think we’ve seen it already in Episode 1, is that the Marine knows his place in the scheme of things, which is as a tool, a cog in a larger machine, a member of a pack — “Mission accomplishment first, then troop welfare.”  Unlike the futility experienced by our Wire characters who were pawns in a game they often didn’t understand, I would say our Marine are liberated by this, and I think that’s a key, one of them,  to our map.

Continue reading

Sit-rep: Oscar Mike

This is not the most elegant of first posts, because I still have this big long thing I keep shuffling around and it will likely not get finished, much less posted, until late tonight.

This is the drive-by placeholder, also an invitation for everyone else to jump in at their own level of confusion or clarity.  Probably best to start with an open thread first anyway.

Okay, reading the book helped,  but partly because I probably didn’t retain enough, and partly because the experience of moving through the show narrative is much more demanding, I found myself struggling between the need to open the book up for reference  and the desire to just float along on the rushing current of the show and fill in the blanks later. I chose the latter.

First thing, it was good, it was worth the wait, and even more engaging than I anticipated,  in a way the book wasn’t  (for me).  I’m not a military buff, it’s largely a foreign planet to me, I don’t have a lot of war narratives under my belt. As I read the book, I struggled with keeping the characters straight, not to mention their rank and their relationships with each other, official and non.  Watching characters portrayed by actors was much easier, and for me at least, helped the narrative flow. In addition, this was probably where I saw the most recognizable Simon/Burns signature thus far, that strength of theirs when introducing  a large cast in a short amount of time.

Mostly though, even after twice through, I’m still in the immersion phase. Overall, the main thing that I was struck by repeatedly as I watched last night —and I find this immensely fucking exciting— is how dense and rich the narrative structure is, how much we have to pay attention to in order to understand what’s happening.  There’s dialogue and characterization, sure.  But we get put on watch immediately that all our senses are going to be needed to really get this, which is good, since there’s a cubic shitload of information flying toward us, seemingly unfiltered (though of course, very carefully so), and it’s all meant to tell us what’s really going down. On re-viewing the second time, it’s immediately obvious the opening sequence is a war game,  because it’s too quiet, too orderly, too understandable and logical to be real.

What did that dude on the radio say?  And who was it that said it? Echo Five Charlie?  Who the fuck is that? Why’d they pick up that gun, not the big one?   Oh, this must not be that dangerous, no one is wearing helmets. What is that they yell so everyone knows to put on their masks and mopp suits?  Etc, etc.

It seemed obvious that the show had to begin before the introduction of Wright’s character, and I dug the way the narrative and the new characters and situations were layered up, also where they broke the first episode, basically at the “We are not in fucking Kansas anymore, and you, Toto, are just lucky you didn’t get your ass shot.”

More later. Have some skittles, we’ll be here a while.

UPDATED:  crickets….crickets.  You don’t post, you don’t comment… hello, is this thing on?

A good man, and thorough

TWOP is going to be recapping Generation Kill, which I find surprising — given the mini-series-ness of the production.

Athenae hooked me up with this news a week or so ago. So why has it taken me so long to post it? Is it because some folks have grown kind of “meh, TWOP sux” lately, especially since the Bravo buyout?

Nope. Because even if those folks are right, and I’m not sure they are, because things change and evolve and time moves on, anyway even if they are, TWOP is still great at the cross-pollinating thing and that will bring the show, and Simon, more viewers. And if that gets 10 more more people talking about this war, and war in general, and politics, and the election, and our country, I’m down with it.  It sucks they aren’t already doing that, it sucks that they haven’t caught on yet, it sucks some will forget it again, but I’ll take what I can get. Different people change and evolve in response to different stimuli.

Which, oh yeah, that reminds me:  Someone who shall remain nameless, a beloved (justly so) commenter, on that elitist politico-economico-cultirati place where a couple of us spend too much time, this someone took a crack at me the other night.  The topic was television, and how we should all kill ours now, and the majority of crackheads commenting agreed that it offered little, toss the fucker out.  Disagreeing with that (plus pointing out that throwing our teebees out the window with one revolutionary fist whilst still hanging on with the other to our computers, ipods, appliances, cars, etc., well it just seems a tetch too symbolic to make our corporate overlords shit themselves) plus seeing a chance to work in a Nupac plug, I said I’d have a hard time letting go of HBO, for one thing.

So this beloved community sage serves up some condescension to me about hanging on to my calming blue screen to keep myself numbed out, sedated, and calm.  Or something like that. I’m not obsessive enough (shut up) to go find the comment but I’m pretty sure the words “numb,” “blue,” “sedated” and “calm” were all in it.

Which brings me back to my n=10 damaged souls ripe for change reacting to the seed of an idea.  Which brings me way back to Friday nights and Homicide, back when it felt like maybe there were only 10 people watching. Then The Corner,  then the first two seasons of The Wire, the uncertainty there would be another after that, but there was, then one more season, and then one more.

Tell me there wasn’t some change happening as more viewers found that show, some things taking hold in people’s skulls, some ideas.

Like, for example:

“America’s broken. No, really. Shot in the head broken.”

Because, see, I’d rather that 10 people really get it, really have that bowel-freezing middle-of-the-night choking up out of sleep panic over how fucked we are than five hundred people snoring like well-fed dogs after the 8,814th ep of Law and Order.

Anyway, the procrastination about the TWOP news was because they put their best dude on the job and it psyched me flat out.  That’s right, Jacob.  TEH Jacob. Athenae’s favorite writer Jacob.

And I couldn’t figure out how to write about how good he is. How he brings it even when the show in question is pure crap.  Or not.

And then, there’s the BSG recaps.

In the stillness and light, with the wind in her hair, a holy smile upon her face, lit from within by the fire of a thousand wrong turns suddenly and violently wrenched straight: all those mistakes weren’t mistakes, they were just the way things had to go. They were just the unfolding, from a funny angle. Whether this has all happened before and will happen again is beside the point, that’s just rhetoric: seen from above, this is all happening. She closes her eyes in the unfolding. The Kore child dances in the light of the abyss, her face clean and joyful, almost too bright to see, free of the constraints of time and what we see. She smiles in absolute peace: how can you look at her, this beautiful, calm girl, this gorgeous peace, this holy calm, this rightness, and think this is a mistake? I believe that Kara Thrace will lead the Fleet to Earth, just as I believe Three will stand and walk and love again, and Caprica will know God’s love, and Gaius will know peace, and Gaeta will bone a dude. Just as I believe that until the bugs stop jumping, the war will never end, because fear and violence create more bugs and more fear and more violence, and the more frightened you are, the more likely you are to both act like assholes and forget that it’s just a game, fail to recognize they’re only toys. I believe these things just as I believe there’s a day all pawns will become queens, and the Chips stop talking, and the angel rejoins what was broken, on a holy anvil that only looks like war, from this joke of an angle.

I don’t know how to write about writing about television that’s that gymnastic and funny and mean and glorious, except to just point at it. Except to tell you these recaps will show up over there, and they will be more than worth our while.  Except to tell you I know they put the best shot they have on it, which is only fitting.

Interestingly enough, he’s never watched The Wire.  Rather than just pretend that of course he has, or cram all five seasons in before watching seven episodes of a completely different show, he asked for some conversation about it here, so go knock yourselves out.

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